Real power, Jack, comes from understanding the dark side of human nature and bending it to serve you.” My Father, I suspect, knows all about the dark side of human nature, but maybe not as much as Borker.
I don’t trust Borker and I have decided that to survive this command I need to become as devious as the good Lieutenant.
Borker’s cabin is neat and spartan, the man lives like a monk. He possesses no clothes other than his uniforms, no comforts, no luxuries, and his reading matter is comprised entirely of regulations and manuals, except for a thick book entitled ‘The Art of War’, by Sun Tzu. It’s the only interesting thing in this cell of a room and as I flick through the pages a piece of pigeon paper falls to the floor.
Whoever sent the message to Borker by pigeon did not declare their name. The crackly tissue paper is covered in small neat words. There are two bearings, both heading out from Newark platform: one heads to Newtonsteign, capital of the Microtough empire, and the other heads to somewhere called, ‘The village of the Damned.’ Underneath are the words, “I say again, you must bring her in alive. Do not disobey me. Your fate will be her fate and don’t even think of becoming a martyr to the cause.’
My heart freezes, I am such a fool—this can only relate to Nina. Does Borker want her dead so desperately that my Father has to warn him off. I have no doubt the message is from my Father, who else wants Nina Swift taken alive. I will have to double my attempts to keep Nina out of Borker’s clutches until she has a chance to prove her innocence.
So why has Borker gone looking for information he already possesses? And the greater mystery, why would my Father have the faintest idea where Nina is heading next? So far, her course seems entirely random. And what is the cause Father refers to? Clearly, they have left me out of some important parts of the loop—I should have known.
I hear footsteps on the boardwalk. Hurriedly, I slip the pigeon paper back into the Art of War and carefully place it back on the shelf, then hurry back up to the deck.
As my head pokes through the hatch I’m just in time to see Borker mount the gangplank. He’s red and sweating, and there’s a nasty cut on his right cheek. He looks like he’s been fighting. Behind him stride three smart police captains.
Barker salutes and addresses me crisply. “Captain, these gentlemen require sight of your Letter of Mark before they will allow us to coerce them to our cause.” Our cause? Or my Father’s cause?
“Is this necessary Lieutenant?” What game is he playing now?
“Quite necessary, sir.” He’s putting on a show for these other constable’s. He’s never called me ‘Sir,’ before, let alone saluted me. “My informants confirm our quarry has indeed visited Newark and is heading off in one of two possible directions. We need more vessels so we can split our forces to apprehend the murderers.”
So that’s the game: Borker brought us here to Newark in the hope of finding other constables to swell our ranks. I wish I knew who he’s been fighting, someone bigger and meaner than him I hope. I’ve never seen anyone get the better of him before—I bet there’s a tale to tell there.
I don’t bother to ask Borker about his informants or the possible headings, since I already know—let him think I trust him or have no interest. Instead I invite the captains of my new flotilla into the map room for a briefing. I usher them in ahead of me, then deliberately close the door on Borker. He’s not a ship’s Captain, so he has no right to claim a place in this briefing.
It gives me a petty sense of triumph to shut Borker out, but I know I will pay for it later. Still, it gives me the opportunity to stress the importance of taking Nina Swift alive and letting her stand trial for her alleged crimes.
The main question, is how do I stop Borker from shooting Nina out of the skies when we eventually catch up with her?
After evading Borker and his assassins by leaping from the Newark platform onto the Shonti Bloom waiting below, I am hoping for a good lie in.
“Nina, we got company.”
I open a blurry eye and eventually focus on Scud’s tired face.
“Fernando says you need to come have a look,” he says,
“Oh my muscles.” Everything aches as I swing out of my hammock; my legs stiff from all the running and bruised from my collision with the Shonti’s hull; my arms and chest still burn from the effort of leaping onto the blimp; my burned hand throbs beneath thick layers of bandages. I wipe sleepy dust from my eyes. “Whatever he wants had better be important,” I grumble hobbling to the door. I know I am being ungracious, but right now I don’t care.
Fernando hands me a telescope the moment I step on deck. He points into the sunrise in our wake. “On the horizon.”
For a moment my heart stops and I think, ‘Reavers.’ Then reality cuts in, Fernando wouldn’t require my opinion if we were about to encounter a Reaver raiding party. He would have the ship running in the opposite direction with all hands on deck handing out weapons. Fernando has a healthy aversion to becoming a Reaver’s lunch, as do I.
The air smells fresh—a new day. I stare at the pink tinged horizon and my mind clicks into alertness.
The newly risen sun highlights the uniform colors of two shark-tailed air ships, far too smart for Reaver ships. No hiding now—that sun has already picked us out like a beacon. The shark-tails are too distant for me to see the rows of Evinrude bio engines or the bristling weapons, but I can picture them in my mind.
I hand the telescope back to Fernando. “Constables.”
“They might have nothing to do with us,” I say hopefully, but I know it’s a false hope—too many coincidences.
Fernando rolls his eyes. “Scud and I changed tack half an hour ago and they immediately matched our course.”
Trent and Izzy emerge onto the deck for the morning watch, mugs of steaming coffee in their hands.
Izzy notices the tension between us immediately. “What’s up?”
“The constables have found us,” I say simply.
Trent scrutinizes his cup. “That’s quick. How?”
I shrug my aching shoulders. “Someone recognized my face? The assassins tipped them off? They got lucky? Does it matter?” All I really want to do is return to bed, but as Captain I have to deal with this situation first.
When entering an uneven contest, you need to work your strengths and force your opponents onto their weaknesses.
Shark-tailed ships sprint over short distances. They need large batteries and lots of sunshine to maintain that speed. To further boost their sprinting abilities, they sport banks of engines, which eat lots of heavy bio-fuel. Large-fluked whale-tails, like the Shonti Bloom, endure over long distances; light, fuel efficient, good at altitude, but slower, especially in a race.
Our best chance is to lose them during the night, but we have to stay ahead until nightfall and it’s only dawn.
I study the race course: Light stratospheric clouds above; not much below—nowhere to hide. All this light and sunshine is going to favor the shark-tails. Somehow, I need to neutralize those banks of powerful engines.
I watch Izzy take the helm from Fernando—the night shift is over. Hopefully, it’s going to be a long day.
“Take us high,” I order, “as high above those clouds as you can get. And find a jet-stream to boost us along.” The thin chill air will give the shark-tails little to thrash against and hopefully freeze their engines. Our large flukes should give us the advantage.
“Full throttle and burn the engines until they freeze up. It’s going to get cold guys. I’m going back to bed.”
By mid-day, when we break through the stratos clouds, the constables have drawn so close we can read the registration marks printed on their envelopes, without the aid of telescopes. I start to sweat—maybe I have misjudged. Thankfully, we are still out of weapons range.
The atmosphere aboard the Shonti Bloom is growing tense; the others are starting to doubt my judgment. If the constables close the gap sufficiently to use their weapons, we are finished. Unable to sleep below in my cabin, I pace the deck annoying everyone else. They try their best to ignore me, knowing there is no plan B. No one speaks.
Eventually, we gain sufficient height to make a difference. The higher we climb the more the constable ships labor in the thinning atmosphere. Every stroke of the Shonti Bloom’s huge flukes powers us marginally ahead. At last we can kill the engines and save fuel for maneuvering. I shrug myself deeper into my fur-lined flight jacket against the dropping temperature. Ice sparkles from the rigging and on the blades of the redundant engines. Time to pull on our fur hats and gloves.
Then luck strikes and we find our slipstream. The gap between us and the constables opens up again. With every extra meter we forge ahead, the tension on the deck eases slightly. I make the crew break out spare blimp material to jury-rig heavy spinnaker sails. We fly them from the bow like giant kites. Everyone jumps to their task with renewed enthusiasm. With the sails up, we can catch every last molecule of the pursuing slipstream, to help power us along. Smiles start to crack the lips of my stressed-out crew. Then we wait. The silence broken only by the cracking of the sail canvas, the swish of the Shonti’s tail, and my nervous pacing.
Mid-way through the afternoon, their engines long frozen solid, the constables find the slipstream too. They produce their own sails and pick up speed again, but they have lost their advantage and the distance between us remains constant.
Finally, I can relax. “We’re going to make it to nightfall guys.” To celebrate, I take my aching body back to bed with instructions for my crew to wake me no later than an hour before sunset. To follow the long day, we have a long night ahead of us. Eventually, I allow the swish of the Shonti Bloom’s great tail to lull me to sleep.
As the sun finally sets and the Shonti Bloom’s lights flicker on, we complete preparation of our secret weapon.
The constable airships of the constable skim the high cloud in the moonlight, like schooners on an ocean of cloud, looking ghostly and beautiful. I try to imagine what the Shonti Bloom looks like from the constables’ point of view. Are they admiring the beauty of my ship’s lines, silhouetted against the sunset, or do they just see a quarry they must capture? I bet Borker has no concept of beauty.
Fernando dashes back from the forward lookout. “Thick bank of clouds straight ahead, Captain.”
After their initial doubts, the whole crew has pulled together as one—even if we lose this race, I know I will feel a glow of pride in all of them: the reward of command.
They all give me thumbs up and I take over the helm.
Gently, I steer the Shonti Bloom into the thick cloud. Initially, a light mist blurs our vision, but soon visibility drops to nil.
“Blimp’s covered,” Scud calls, sliding confidently down the rigging from the top lookout.
“Haul those sails in!” I order. “We’re diving in ten, nine, eight, seven—”
Frantically, my crew claws in the spinnakers. The sudden frantic activity at odds with the lazy race of the previous fifteen hours.
“—three, two, one—.” The last of the sail material slithers down through a deck hatch, where the crew abandons it in great heaps as they race to their next stations.
“—Dive! Dive! Dive!” Together, Izzy and I throw our shoulders against the helm, forcing the ship into a steep dive. It protests with loud groans and creaks from the rigging, but, with a hiss of compressing gas it obeys. “Full power to the port engine, Fernando! Release the device, Scud!”
Trent and Scud heave our final hope of losing the constables over the side and watch it disappear into the murk. We all listen for the crash which would signal defeat. We hear nothing.
“Clear,” Scud reports. The weapon has deployed.
“Level up! Hard to starboard!” I throw my weight against the opposite side of the helm while Izzy pulls back and spins the wheel at the same time.
“One, two, three…” I count to ten as the Shonti Bloom levels out onto her new heading below the cloud layer.
“All stop!” I order. “Kill everything! Silent running!”
The tail hangs motionless, and all the electrics, especially the tail lights, fade. To anyone looking down, as the constables are, with the moonlight blocked by cloud, the Shonti Bloom should merge into the black shadow of the land below. Invisible.
It is amazing how far sound can travel in the air, especially at night. I, and the rest of the crew, hold our breaths. I watch the spare tail light, connected to a battery and dangling from a small hydrogen balloon, sink rapidly into the distance; blown along on our previous heading—the secret weapon. I pray the cloud has damped the sounds of our maneuvers sufficiently to escape the attention of the constables.
When attempting to deceive a pursuer, providing something for them to focus on helps create the deception that they are still following the same quarry, even if the source of that focus has switched.
It is not long before we hear two airships pounding and clanking through the cloud layer in hot pursuit. We high-five each other silently as they continue past in hot pursuit of our decoy. We watch, with satisfaction, as both sets of tail lights descend into the blackness. They have bought our deception.
Silently, we get under way on our new heading.
A speech is required. “If my Mother were here…’
“Which she is not,” I hear Izzy hiss.
“She would say amazing work everyone. So well done.” I am so proud of my crew; I feel tears pricking at the corners of my eyes. Thankfully, the darkness covers my reaction. An emotional captain would never do.
I regain my composure and clear my throat. “New course; new plan. We head straight for the third clue first—the eyes of Gaia.”
Ashcroft Ascent is one small island boasting many different building styles, stacked one on top of another; skyscrapers housing multiple floored hydroponic fields peek through the clutter of older style buildings crammed shoulder to shoulder. Below, smart terraces hang below the rocky bottom of the overcrowded land mass. An old island, probably one the first cities to fly; a cramped and claustrophobic place, where the wealthy have moved down instead of up.
Docked white airships claim this as part of the Microtough protectorate. Not strictly within the realms of the Engineering Guild, but allied to them in some fashion. Probably through agricultural treaties judging by the proliferation of hydroponic farms.
We are here in search of the third clue in my Mother’s journal: something called “The Eyes of Gaia.”
Sunlight struggles to reach warm fingers into the narrow alleys between towering buildings—gloom is the dominant feature at ground level. Port holes of sunlight, piped from upper stories, light the streets with garish patches of sun among the shade. No open plazas or wide sunlit streets here. I cannot imagine living in such a dark, cramped, claustrophobic space. No wonder the well-to-do have moved down to lighter, more spacious lodgings.
We provision the Shonti Bloom with fresh produce from the hydroponic farms—at a price, of course, then set out to find the museum.
As we exit the docks and enter the gloomy maze of streets, we pass a bespectacled statue of Bill, ‘The first Gates,’ patron saint of Microtough. The talk of the docks is how Chief Engineer Symons recently succeeded the late and unlamented General Molotoph as the new Gates—the Engineering Guild staking their claim once more on the Microtough Empire. Whether the Engineering Guild controls Microtough or Microtough controls the engineers is a relationship constantly in flux.
“Hail Gates, keeper of knowledge,” Scud mutters as he passes the statue.
The walls of the narrow street lean in on me, squeezing the breath out of the place. The residents ignore us, scurrying about their business in ubiquitous Microtough white suits.
“How did the ancients build such tall, thin structures?” Scud muses.
I turn doubtfully to the others. “Surely, this place won’t make room for anything that wastes space, such as a museum?”
“All Guild protectorates have museums,” Scud replies, “it makes them feel important.”
“Means they can tell history from their point of view,” Fernando chimes in. “Very important when it comes to controlling the masses.” Trust Fernando to always have a political eye on the situation.
We stop to ask directions at a little kiosk selling “Delicious” hot pies.
“In the base of hydroponic two-six-seven,” the pie lady says cheerfully while taking our money. The pies, as advertised, are excellent—roasted Butternut Squash and some spices I cannot identify.
The museum is indeed in the base of a towering hydroponics farm. ‘Gone for lunch, back in an hour,’ a sign declares. The door is not only unlocked, but standing wide open—a trusting lot. A lucky turn of events with no one about to disturb us. We should be in and out without anyone knowing.
We have no trouble finding the Eye of Gaia—it’s the main exhibit, almost the only exhibit. A huge heavy lidded eyeball, as high as my waist, carved in a heavy green luminescent stone. I know just how heavy, because after searching the visible exterior I try to roll it onto its side to see underneath. It nearly crushes my toes as I let it rock back into place. Fernando cracks up with laughter while I perform a stupid little jig to keep my toes clear.
Nothing. As far as I can see, the sculpture is devoid of unusual features.
“Can I help you?”
Jumping half out my skin, I spin round to see a scruffy individual, in an off-white suit, smiling blandly from the doorway. A badge on his chest says Curator. That was a quick lunch.
Did he see me looking under the eye of Gaia? I hope it has stopped rocking behind me. I decided to blag it anyway. “Yeah, possibly, we’re doing a school project on early post-industrial objects.”
The curator raises his hands dramatically in the air. “You got me.”
“The eyes of Gaia?”
The comment flies straight past me. “Sorry?”
I shake my head, perplexed.
“The sign,” he sighs, “says the ‘Eyes of Gaia,’ but there’s only one.”
“Oh.” Now I get it—one eye out of two.
Izzy’s there before me. “You mean there is another one?”
The curator beams like he’s just explained the source of the universe. “A pair. Even though Ashcroft Ascent’s most famous daughter discovered the eyes, the engineers have never let us keep both. Of course, we protest in the strongest terms on a regular basis, but who are we, just a gnat barking at the bull.”
The relevance of this information still eludes me. “There’s another eye. But not here?” I ask stupidly.
“Originally, we had nothing. Then, a couple of years ago, we thought we’d won our case. The engineers gave up both eyes, but they only let us keep them for a year before taking one away. Despicable, building up our hopes then demanding one back. We had a grand welcome home ceremony and declared a national holiday and everything.”
While the curator pauses for breath in his saga, I dive in. “So where is the other eye now?”
Izzy gasps, “Newtonsteign?”
Scud wanders off looking worried and Fernando has trouble closing his mouth.
“We had to return it to Newtonsteign last year. A crying shame. The Engineers claimed it might have a more significant value than first thought. Just a ruse if you ask me…want all the glory for themselves.”
My heart sinks, Newtonsteign, center of the Microtough Empire, official residence of the Grand Engineer; and just about the most security conscious place in the world. How can we possible sneak in unnoticed, take a squint at the other eye, and get out again with our lives?
Two days away from Newtonsteign, Scud wakes me with more bad news. “We got company again, Nina. Two more law enforcement ships patrolling across out flight path.”
I can’t believe our bad luck. Either they got the jump on us while we were messing about on Ashcroft Ascent or they have a whole fleet chasing us. Borker’s information network must be more extensive than even Scud’s paranoid imagination can conjure up.
I slam my cabin door on the way out and stomp up the steps to deck. I snatch up a telescope, and cross to where Fernando stands like a sentinel studying the intruders through his own scope.
“Have they seen us?” I demand. I don’t even question the identity of the ships. Since our last encounter, the crew’s confidence has grown noticeably and I see no reason to knock them now. They know what they were doing.
“Not yet. There’s a vicious storm coming in right behind us so we’re still hidden in darkness. We need to turn back before the sun catches us.”
I study the shark-tails: one patrolling well above our cruising altitude and one below, identical to the ones we encountered before.
“They knew we were coming.” I lower the glass to find everyone else staring at me. “Did I just speak that aloud?”
“How?” Fernando demands. “How do they know where we’re headed?”
“Either the journal isn’t as secret as we think it is,” Scud suggests, “or—”
I have an idea and raise the telescope to study the approaching storm.
“—or someone betrayed us.” Izzy finishes.
This time when I lower the telescope they are all staring at Trent. Could Trent have betrayed us? Would he? He seems so happy as part of the team—positively thriving on the camaraderie of a disciplined fully functioning crew, something I guess might be a new experience for him. Besides, what does he have to gain by getting himself caught?
Trent responds to his accusers like a cornered cat. “You think because I’m the last one in I betrayed you?” he wheezes—something he always does under stress. A sign of guilt? “How much did each of you really know about Fernando, Izzy or Scud before they joined your crew, Nina?”
Fernando’s nostrils flare in disgust. “You leave Izzy out of it—she’s the one who’s lost her father here.”
“I’ve known Scud for years, and Izzy is family,” I say quietly.
“An’ families never betray each other, I suppose,” Trent scoffs.
He has a point, especially about, Fernando—all those debts could leave one vulnerable to blackmail. I shake myself, this is pointless speculation and the distrust could tear my crew apart again as surely as the worst storm.
They eye each other suspiciously. I have to put a stop to this. “You are all missing the bigger picture here, guys—Borker is an assassin and a constable, he now knows what we are after and I bet he knows where the other clues are hidden, he’s merely split his forces to cover both bases. So no more talk of traitors—we are one crew and we look out for each other, agreed?”
The others sheepishly nod their heads and mumble apologies.
“Good, now let’s deal with these constables,” I growl. No way am I letting them win this time. “I’ve got a plan. All stop!”
This time, the constables suffer from a major weakness—they won’t dare set foot on Newtonsteign. In fact, they are not at all welcome in Microtough airspace. There’s history: independent city states against a centrally controlled empire. There have been several wars over the decades so any official city state ship is automatically suspect. If we can just get passed their patrol we can get to the next clue. And I know exactly how to do it.
The storm whips up behind us and we surf along just inside its leading edge—invisible to the constables, but heading in the right direction for Newtonsteign. A simple and highly dangerous ruse.
“Scud, I need you on the wheel.” Fernando and I are already battling to keep the ship out of the storm’s vortex, but still hidden within the clouds. A third set of hands might just prevent our rigging being mangled, our hydrogen bags punctured, and the whole ship spat into the ground like match sticks.
The compass is useless in this storm and we have no way of seeing where we are going. I am navigating purely by touch now: feeling how the Shonti Bloom responds to the buffeting winds of the storm and compensating to maintain our position. I find it easier to close my eyes. I can visualize the Shonti Bloom in a giant wind tunnel, and let my imagination guide me. Scud and Fernando are just providing extra weight to help me enforce my will on the steering and stop the wheel spinning out of control every time the ship hits a counter blast.
We battle on for hour after exhausting hour. At one point, as night falls, I feel like the storm has flipped us on our heads and is threatening to tear off our tail. Without our tail, we will be a floating dead weight, ripped to shreds. We hang on for dear life, too exhausted to do more than throw our combined weight in one direction or another. Miraculously, the Shonti Bloom rights herself. I breathe a brief sigh of relief before the storm throws us into another confusing vortex.
Sometime during the night, the storm starts to weaken, releasing the Shonti Bloom from its relentless grip. Exhausted, we collapse where we stand and curl up to sleep on the cold hard deck.
Fernando shakes me awake. Sunlight streams across the deck, not a sign of last night’s mega storm. “Nina, constables. Just appeared over the horizon.”
I grab a telescope and laugh when I see the direction Fernando points. “Well done, guys, we got past them.” Their ships must have run ahead of the storm, the safe and sensible course of action. Now, though, they are well away from their stations and we are between them and Newtonsteign.
Izzy grins at the turn of events. “Orders Captain.”
I point away from the shark-tails. “Turnabout and make all possible speed for Newtonsteign.”
Within an hour the constables are gaining on us, but then four pure white airships of the Microtough Navy appear on the horizon ahead of us and the constables withdraw.
We have escaped the constables, all we need to do now is get past the white ships of the Microtough Navy who are training their blast-cannons on us.
An officer, dressed in a pure white uniform, appears on the deck of the closest Microtough ship with a megaphone. “Heave to and prepare to be boarded,” he orders.
This time we cannot run.
While still at Ashcroft Ascent we had prepared for our assault on Newtonsteign. So when the first gleaming white airship of the Newtonsteign patrol hauls alongside us, we are able to slip on our long, cheap, but plausible, double-breasted white coats, and present our forged letter of introduction. The letter is signed by the curator of the Ashcroft Ascent museum, who thought he was signing off our bogus school projects.
We are engineering students on a field trip from Ashcroft Ascent to the heart of the engineering guild: the great city of Newtonsteign—a wonder of the modern age. Trent is our teacher.
When constructing a believable fabrication, keep it simple and as close to the truth as possible. Include some genuine artifacts to help smooth over the lies.
I have my doubts about this ruse. It seems too simple, but Trent has visited Newtonsteign before and assures us educational parties visit all the time. Ashcroft Ascent is too close and therefore all too easily checked out for my liking, but I relented when Scud suggested the letter of introduction. At least the signature is genuine.
Grappling hooks pull the Shonti Bloom alongside the Newtonsteign craft. Two guards swing across the gap separating the two hulls on ropes. One attaches a line to our winch pulley while the other watches with steely cold eyes and covers us with a compression rifle. Once secure at their end, the winch is used to haul across a canvas cradle.
An officer, dressed in the pure white uniform of the Microtough Navy steps gingerly out of the cradle, accompanied by two further guards, both wielding compression riffles. The officer holds out a white-gloved hand. “Papers.”
Trent presents our fake identity papers and the letter of introduction. I wait, my heart hammering nervously in the silence. I watch Scud staring out the window counting clouds–he doesn’t like strangers or lies. The officer stares intently at our IDs like he knows they are fake, he even holds mine up to the light. I can feel cold sweat running down the side of my face. He spends an inordinate time reading and re-reading the introduction letter, like he’s searching for some hidden meaning. Just when I think it’s inevitable I’m in for a long spell in a Microtough jail, the officer looks up and smiles. “These all seem in order. Please enjoy your trip.” The officer departs the way same way he arrived, in the cradle device.
We all grin at each other like the conspirators we are.
I can’t believe our luck. “That was way too easy. I was convinced he could tell our documents are forged.”
“I nearly had kitten,” Izzy laughs, “when he held your ID up to the light.”
Scud’s still looking out the window nervously. “Too easy. Plans never run that smoothly.”
“Cut it out, Scud.” Fernando is annoyed, he’s joined this ruse under duress—he was out voted. “Sometimes things just go the way they were planned. It’s all in the preparation. Good preparation delivers a smooth plan.” He’s right, up to a point, but then you must always plan for the unexpected—the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.
“I told you it would work,” Trent boasts—he hardly looks worried at all. “They love educational trips on Newtonsteign—feeds their big egos.”
We get under way again. Two more white ships, containing equally white—clad security forces, stop us on our approach. The engineering guild takes security seriously.
Eventually, the great city itself floats into view. What a sight; nothing in the world looks even remotely like Newtonsteign. The entire floating landmass is covered in glass and sculpted in the shape of a giant lily flower. Other landmasses are linked to the central bloom like arteries to a heart; one even sports six chimneys belching out black smoke, something I have never seen before.
“The foundries,” Trent informs us with distaste.
No slums allowed to spoil the pristine beauty of this design. In fact, lots of things are not allowed.
The Chief Engineer reaches out from his souring glass palace at the center of Newtonsteign into virtually every city, town, and platform on the planet. Only Chartered Engineers know the secrets of old world technology that keep the city landmasses afloat. The engineering guild wields enormous power over other city states. If any city dares to default on its crippling tithe, the guild simply withdraws its engineers, dooming that city to slow technological decline and ultimate destruction. It only takes one city state to fall from the sky for all the rest to get the message. With so many secrets to guard, no wonder security is tight.
“Isn’t this place fantastic,” Scud enthuses as we shuffle into an arrivals area. “If nothing else, the museum is going to be worth seeing.”
Everywhere I look I can see posters of Chief Engineer Smyth in his white suit and white-lensed shades, espousing the laws of the guild; “No action without Guild reaction; Natural law is fixed and unchanging; All things decay unless maintained by the Guild; Energy is neither created nor destroyed, but flows from the Guild.”
The hairs on the nape of my neck prickle. “Shh, don’t draw attention to yourself,” I advise the others. For all its grandness and inspiring architecture, I can tell that a weight rests heavily on the population here. It isn’t just the uniforms and the dazzling whiteness of the place, nor the personality cult of the Chief Engineer. Newtonsteign contains darker forces: a constriction of thought, a subtle control of the mind. This place gives me the creeps. I can’t wait to get to the eye and leave.
“My father wanted me to train as an engineer,” Scud continues. Strangely, he’s completely unfazed by Newtonsteign, maybe the regimented order of the place appeals to his sense of rightness. “But I couldn’t get inspired by all those laws.” He’s certainly clever and diligent enough to have made it in the guild.
Apart from Scud, I wonder if the others can feel the oppression. Trent looks edgy, which isn’t unusual, he’s scanning arrivals looking for trouble. Fernando is relaxed, but Izzy jumps at every new sound. I bet she can feel it too.
Suddenly, a huge explosion rocks the whole landmass, shaking me to my knees. Frantically, I scan arrivals for danger. At first I don’t see anything, then people start pointing towards the soaring glass of the outer window. On a neighboring landmass, two foundry chimneys are starting to topple. Gracefully, they collapse in opposite directions, bounce on the edges of the island, then slide over the sides, like felled trees amid a shower of debris, and plummet earthward.
I hope the explosion has nothing to do with me: first the post hub, now Newtonsteign, am I jinxed or something?
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If you want to be truly awesome, and a patron of the arts, you can download the entire Gaia’s Brood novel for free. All you need to do is complete the form below, so I can send you a 100% free discount voucher, and promise to leave a quick book review on the book’s Amazon page – it just takes a minute, but will mean more to me than you’ll ever know. (PS it doesn’t have to be a glowing 5 star review, just your honest feedback of what you liked and didn’t like about my writing).
Whatever you choose to do, thank you for your time and interest, it means a lot to me. In appreciation, I would like to gift you a free copy of my space-opera novella, Helium3 Episode 1. Just click here to download a free copy in the ereader format of your choice.